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Limited Christmas: cake

A few weeks ago I shared my family christmas pudding recipe with you. But the lead-up to Christmas affords so many opportunities for baking that I thought you might also be interested in my family Christmas cake recipe.

This is a bit less involved than the pudding. If you’ve already tried the pudding (and I’ve loved hearing from those of you who have!), you won’t have any problems with the cake.

I’m giving you the full recipe, so be warned, you’re looking at more than a kilo of mixed fruit. I’ve given you the rough quantities I used but please do feel free to play around with the fruit mix. However, don’t use glace cherries; they’re disgusting and dried cherries taste so much nicer.

You can start the cakes about a month before you need. I usually make two as I have a champion Christmas cake eater in my house – one cake begins being consumed immediately while the other is carted along to family christmas celebrations. I do recommend you let them sit for at least a few days as they’re really pretty boozy and those flavours need a little time to settle.

Nana Western’s Christmas Cake

  • 375 g sultanas
  • 300 g currants
  • 250 g dried cherries
  • 200 g mixed peel
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 cups brandy
  • 500 g butter
  • 500 g brown sugar
  • 8 eggs
  • 500 g plain flour
  • 125 g self raising flour
  • 2 tbsp mixed spice

This is another two day job (more if you want to soak your fruit longer). Combine the dried fruit, cinnamon, star anise and brandy. Stir, inhale, cover, and place in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

Now is a good time to think about mixed spice. By all means use a good quality pre-made one like Herbie’s mixed spice, your own, or else use mine. (If you’ve made the pudding, you should have just the right amount of spice mix for it  left over, if you haven’t used it since.)

The next day, preheat the oven to 150 C.

Get your electric beaters and the biggest bowl you have and cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each egg. Sift together the flours and mixed spice, add 0ne-third of dry mix to the butter mixture, then add one-third of the boozefruit. Stir. Continue in this manner until all the dry mix and boozefruit is added.

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Now. This is a lot of cake. As I said, I make two; this year one 20 cm square and one 20 cm round. It’s usually two square cakes but I think my other square tin is in the boot of the car (yeah, look, I don’t know) and I couldn’t be bothered getting it. Whatever tins you choose, line the base with baking paper and grease the sides, then tip the cake mix in. It’s pretty thick, so give the tins a good shake and smooth the tops of the proto-cakes down with a spatula; you want a nice even surface.

Place a shallow tray filled with water in the bottom of your oven. This is important as it helps your cakes stay moist (haha, moist). Put the cakes in the oven and bake. If you’ve used the same tins I have, it takes about 2 1/2 hours. If you’ve for some reason decided to make a huge frankencake using the whole mix, you’re looking at closer to 3 1/2 – 4 hours. Keep an eye on them; if they start to brown too quickly on top just put some foil over the tins (I made this call after about 1 1/2 hours). They’re done when they start pulling away from the sides of the tins and/or a skewer comes out clean.

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Leave the cakes in the tins until they’re cool enough to handle, then tip them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Eat them with a glass of milk before bed or stash them in the back of your pantry or fridge in an airtight container.

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A note on icing

Look, I hate fondant. It has absolutely zero redeeming features; it’s just pasty sweet crap. And it’s difficult to manipulate. However, if you want to ice your cakes, you’ll need it and some marzipan (my feelings about fondant do not extend to marzipan but, if you want to eat marzipan, make stollen – I am considering this).

Your cakes need to be cold for icing, and it may also help to brush them with hot jam. Roll out a layer of marzipan – ideally between two sheets of baking paper because it’s quite sticky – at least half a centimetre thick and covers the top of the cake. The idea here is to create a smooth surface on which to apply the fondant, so if you see any weird cracks or depressions or if one (or more) of the cake’s corners are lower than the others, build it up with more marzipan.

Roll out your fondant between two sheets of baking paper as thin as you can. Seriously this is quite difficult, not only is it sticky like the marzipan but it’s also pretty stiff. You just have to keep at it. Make sure it’s big enough to drape all over the cake, then press it down so it sticks to the cake (hence the jam). Trim the edges. Buff the surface of the fondant with heel of your hand – this helps ensure maximum sticking of fondant to cake and also gives the fondant a pleasant shine to it.

If you’ve come this far you might as well tie a fancy ribbon around the cake and poke some artificial holly into it. I haven’t done this since I was 19 so no pictures, but that is what Google is for.

 

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